facebook google-plus linked-in twitter youtube Instagram
The UK’s premier online Pilates Education accredited training provider


Back to news

Head, Neck and Shoulders by Noah Karrasch

Posted by: Emma on: 06/05/2017


Very simply stated, I believe if one tries to reach out and do good works, to serve, with tight arms and a tight neck, one can’t enjoy their service.  Conversely, if one is serving at work they don’t enjoy, their arms and neck will tighten.  Pain and congestion will result.  What’s the bottom line?  Find work you love and do it joyfully.  At the least, find how to make your work more enjoyable and devote energy to staying relaxed and free in your body as you work.  We’ll talk more about learning to give with open arms later in the chapter.

Most simply, the mechanism of this arm hinge is at T1, the first thoracic vertebra.  This is the area of the spine at the base of the neck where one bone is usually more prominent.  It’s often referred to as the ‘dowager’s hump’ area, because as we grow older and our head pulls forward even farther, this hump increases.  It’s this dowager’s hump area from where our arms grow and are innervated and supplied with blood.  All the work we do in the next chapter with hinges down the arms will be based on the idea of first keeping this arm hinge open and clean.

A factor that makes this hinge different is an additional connector of the arm to the body.  The collar bone or clavicle joins the arm to the sternum or breastbone at the front of the body.  This is the only place where your hand, arm and shoulder are attached to your body by a bone.  The clavicle’s therefore something of a stabilizer or strut:  the spinal bones form the hinge, but the collarbone helps hold the hinge in place.

It could be argued that the arm begins at the back of the head in the brain back.  Follow the trapezius muscle, which looks like a diamond from the back of the head, out to the shoulders and down to the middle of the back between the shoulder blades. 

When I’ve worked long and hard, I often grab one arm just below the elbow with the other hand and simply pull—I try to pull my arm out of my shoulder and my shoulder out of my neck where I feel the tension of the arm hinge.  I pull to a place where I feel the stretch but not to where I hurt myself.  Then I put breath into the stretch.  Often I can release an amazing amount of tension just by a good tug on each arm.  I also like to simply reach my arm up into the air and stretch.  If you’ve ever watched a cat really stretch, you know something of what I’m suggesting.  Cats are able to take one leg and pull it to a great length, often while stretching their low back and tail in the opposite direction.  So this idea is simply, pull your arm out of your back, stretch and breathe.

To make this stretch even more effective I often pull my head to the other side. Try this: touch your ear away from the stretching arm into your shoulder as you pull one elbow away from your body. Do you feel how you’re adding another dimension?

I’ve long wondered if more people have problems in their necks coming from their shoulders, or problems in their shoulders coming from their necks? I’ve finally decided the answer is ‘yes’, and it doesn’t make any difference which way you chase it. If someone is having neck issues, they have shoulder issues, and vice versa. If we can unwind one area, we unwind both places.

An easy way to open my shoulder girdles and arms:  I find a counter, a stairway railing, or a surface about waist height that will hold my weight.  Then I place my hands on the stationary surface and lift my body weight up off my feet as far as I can go; allowing my spine to try to shake loose and lengthen and stretch all its segments.  

I can stretch my lumbosacral and hip hinges out of my arm hinges.  When I get into this position, I’ll sometimes hear and feel the various vertebrae break loose from each other, and when I come back to a standing position I’ll also feel taller and freer all the way through my spine and also through my arms.  Changing hand position and direction will give you different stretches, too.  And if I must, I can even use this stretch while sitting at my desk, by placing elbows on the table.  Sink your weight into them; then pull the stomach hinge back while settling longer into the lumbodorsal hinge.  Again, how many hinges can you open or shake out as you work down the body?

Another favorite stretch is to simply put my fingertips on a doorframe and hang my body weight off the fingertips. Obviously I can’t always put my entire body weight on the door trim; I might pull it off. I gauge how well the trim will hold me, and how much weight I’m able to put on the frame.

e way I’m going to describe the head hinge is something like a tri-fold screen where hinges can fold back in either direction.  See the front of the throat as one of these hinges, and the back of the head where it joins the neck as the other hinge. 

Can you reason that if one pulls tight, the other suffers?  And conversely, if one finds length, both are opened?

Ida Rolf used to tell clients that even if they didn’t have time to get bodywork, they could say to themselves when they think of it, ‘top of the head up, back of the waist, back’.  This isn’t as easy to do as it sounds.  Generally when I share this idea with clients, they lift their head and pull shoulders back, and are quite satisfied until I point out that, to do so, they’ve just shortened, tightened and pulled their low back forward.  As soon as clients try to relax the low back and place it where it belongs, the head chooses to move forward again.  Often it takes several tries before they understand the feeling of keeping the head long and back while the back stays back and knees bend slightly.  Once they find the spot we’re after, however, they want to hold onto it.  They feel taller and more in charge of their world.  How could that be a bad thing?

Even more simply—just take a moment to thrust your own head forward in front of your body.  Can you feel the tension created by this thrust? 

Can you feel a spot at the base of the skull tighten and pinch?  That pinching is your brain stem being deprived of energy.  Pull the top of your head both up and back.  Can you feel a loosening of the brain stem area?  The area of the brain known as the stem, the root or tail of the brain, has also been called the ‘animal brain’.  It’s the oldest part of our brain, and takes care of basic survival skills.  The newer brain may make plans; the older brain simply survives. 

When the back of the neck gets short and tight the survival brain is choked.  The occiput bone at the base of the skull gets pulled down into the neck.  The atlas, the first cervical spinal bone, wedges forward between occiput and the axis, or second cervical bone.  The spinal column is pinched, and the liquid flowing through the spinal column, the cerebrospinal fluid, is no longer able to flow freely. 

Here’s a simple technique you can use for yourself to try to open up the occipital area—the base of your skull where it joins your neck.  Prepare a tool.  It may be as simple as a rolled-up towel.  You could also put two tennis balls into a nylon stocking and tie it off to create a fulcrum under your neck.  Lie on your back on the floor. 

Slip your ‘tool’ behind your head at your brain back.  Lengthen the back of your neck so you feel a tugging in this area.  Pull the back of your head long and your chin to your chest.  Allow your low back to tug both long toward your feet as well as down into the floor.  Stretch and breathe.  As you breathe, you may notice that the tension slows or shortens your breath.  Tug everything a little less.  Coax your breath to come up into the back of your head.  See the breath reaching up into your neck, head, and brain.  Open the restriction in your spinal column!

If you have a trusted partner, ask them to use a terry cloth bathrobe belt, or a rolled up towel, and place it at the brain back.  Have them give a mild tug as you breathe.  If you can’t get a breath, guess what?  They need to lighten up.  Talk them into creating the right amount of pressure so you feel the tug, yet are able to breathe deeply without overworking.  A little pressure is good, but too much is still too much.

Too many of us are still stuck in old traumas around the head, neck and jaw; we can’t keep our heads on straight.  We’ve regressed into survival mode.  Learning to let go of this old pattern may be the beginning of unwinding and realigning the bodymindcore.  Is this old pattern still serving us?  What can we do to shift it, and how can we stay ahead of the old pattern if and when it tries to come back?  When we ask these questions with intention to learn and change, we’re truly getting our head on straight.

Noah Karrasch has been a certified Rolfer since 1986, received advanced certification from the Guild for Structural Integration in 1991, and over the past 30 years has developed his own style of work, which he calls CORE® Bodywork. Though he lives and works in Springfield, MO, USA, he also teaches bodywork skills in various locations around the world including UK, Jamaica, and soon to be Crete and Malaysia.  Author of four books including the newest, BodyMindCORE Work for Movement Therapists:  Leading Clients to CORE Breath and Awareness (due May 2017 from Singing Dragon publishers), Noah will next visit UK in May and Nov/Dec of 2017, offering courses on both visits. 

Please see his website, www.noahkarrasch.com for more information).


Share this article

Back to news